Headmaster’s Assembly – 23 February 2018

Leadership and goodness

I believe that every person sitting here is a leader. I am not one who believes that leadership is granted to a few through their genetic makeup but rather that we learn these skills throughout our lives. Some learn faster than others, some learn better and more, but all of us have the potential and opportunity to lead. This may be in the strangest places and may not even be publically recognised as leadership but it is. Here then are my thoughts on leadership – for all of you. If you recognise some of these qualities in you, understand that leadership lies within you.

  1. Leaders use authority where necessary – never power. A good leader never has to rely on titles or positions to lead. Badges and titles mean nothing to them because their leadership lies inside.

“Leadership is not a popularity contest; it’s about leaving your ego at the door. The name of the game is to lead without a title.” Robin S. Sharma

  1. A leader never has to instil fear in those he leads. They follow him because they want to, out of respect. Those who need their subjects to fear them are usually bullies and cowards themselves.

“Power isn’t control at all — power is strength, and giving that strength to others. A leader isn’t someone who forces others to make him stronger; a leader is someone willing to give his strength to others that they may have the strength to stand on their own.”

Beth Revis

  1. A leader sees the potential in those he leads and encourages the development of that potential. He derives his pleasure from the success of those he had led.
  2. True leaders worry less about a person’s faults and more about how to build their strengths.
  3. Leaders don’t expect others to do their work for them, they do it themselves.
  4. Leaders set an example in terms of behaviour – good or bad – and it is this example that people will follow. That is why it is so important that leaders try to set a good example always.
  5. Leaders help the weak or those less able than themselves. They know that it is easy to lead the capable, the strong but it requires effort, time and greater skill to lead those who struggle.
  6. Leaders never feel entitled – as if they have now arrived and great reward or public adulation is due to them.
  7. Leaders pass the public test – always. They are never afraid of someone walking in on what they are doing because they know that they have nothing to hide.

As a traditional boys school, we walk a very fine line in our hierarchy of leadership. That hierarchy is designed not to give seniors power but to give them responsibility because they are older and hopefully wiser. They have experience on their side which allows them to make better choices and we respect them for that. But that same hierarchy does not permit abuse of power. If it happens, then we have totally misunderstood leadership and responsibility. I believe in the hierarchy of experience and the authority figures that we create to help those who come into our space but I also believe in the worth of every single person sitting in this hall today, from the very youngest to the oldest.

Last night I read the famous speech Martin Luther King Junior delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington America, 100 years after the signing of the Emancipation Charter that freed black men and women from slavery. In his speech, commonly known as the “I have a dream” speech, he said:

“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men would be guaranteed the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Despite the promise of the Constitution to grant these rights at all men, it was clear that this promise had yet to be delivered – hence his encouragement of all people, black and white, to work together to make this dream, so long promised, a reality.

Our own Mission Statement speaks on what we are trying to achieve based on a philosophy that is worth reading again. I shall highlight just two points:

  • We believe in the worth, dignity and unique character of the individual.
  • We strive to create an environment of mutual respect and understanding to ensure that all feel accepted, safe and happy.

Notice that this speaks to all boys, not just a select few. This does not say that only seniors should feel worthy or that popular boys should feel safe and happy. This says ALL boys should feel accepted, safe and happy.

I have seen great strides in our school made in years past and I am so proud of you for doing this. True leadership also takes courage – courage to change that which needs changing and courage to stand up against injustice. And I have seen that courage again and again. I have seen remarkable acts of kindness and excellent leadership by so many of you. I see it every day and I praise you for that.

But every now and then, something happens that threatens our very being – what we believe in and what we stand for and I will not allow that to happen. I will not allow our precious school to lose all we have worked for in the name of tradition. I will not allow the dignity and worth of our boys to be trampled upon. I refer particularly to bullies – those who bully their peers or those who bully their juniors. We will not allow you to do this and we will not allow those who abuse others, verbally or physically, to be part of what we are trying to build.

All societies will face these issues from time to time, whether it be in families, communities, teams or schools. All schools in particular face the issue of bullying on a daily basis, be they primary schools or high schools, state or independent. All of these spaces have the few who would make the lives of others a misery. And all of these spaces have people who are not bullies and who can stand up against those who are. People have a choice and that choice is to combat bullies through good leadership.

“Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skilful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better.” Harry S Truman

And so to the strong amongst you, those who believe in the values that our school has stood for, for over 100 years, those who subscribe to our philosophy and those who do believe in the innate worth of every person I wish you courage and I thank you for what you do. I thank you for standing up for what is right. I thank you for being the good people that you are and I thank you for the society you help create that makes us who we are.

The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of life is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.”
William Arthur Ward